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In Ohio, Electronic Classrooms Must Demonstrate Actual Student Participation To Receive Funding

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By Holly Marie Wilson, Esq.

August 27, 2018

In a closely watched and hotly debated e-school funding case, the Ohio Supreme Court has ruled that the Ohio Department of Education can measure student attendance at virtual- or e-schools using actual student participation data as opposed to simple enrollment numbers. The now closed Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (“ECOT”) was once Ohio’s largest “community school” (aka charter school), receiving more than $106 million in public funding based upon a self-reported enrollment of 15,000 students.

The Ohio Department of Education, which paid ECOT based upon the number of “full-time equivalent students,” conducted a review of ECOT’s enrollment in 2016. Early in the review, the Department requested data from ECOT indicating the duration and frequency of student participation. ECOT’s records showed that, on average, students spent approximately one hour a day logged into ECOT’s educational programs. When the Department requested further information from ECOT, the school refused. Ultimately, the Department determined that the number of students online and completing classwork was closer to 6,000 and required ECOT to pay back $80 million.

ECOT challenged the finding in court, arguing that R.C. 3314.08, which establishes Ohio’s funding calculation for community schools required e-schools to merely “present” 920 hours of “learning opportunities” for students. ECOT claimed that enrollment thus should be measured by “learning opportunities” offered by the school to its students. The Education Department disagreed, arguing that enrollment means actual student participation. The case eventually made its way to the Supreme Court of Ohio.

In Elec. Classroom of Tomorrow v. Ohio State Bd. of Educ., No. 2017-0913, 2018-Ohio-3126, the Ohio Supreme Court interpreted R.C. 3314.08 as authorizing Ohio’s Department of Education “to require an e-school to provide data of the duration of a student’s participation to substantiate that school’s funding.” This ruling gives the Department of Education the statutory authority to require an e-school to provide data relating to a student’s actual participation in educational programing as a prerequisite for funding. 

In finding R.C. 3314.08 unambiguous, the high court explained that enrollment, measured by learning opportunities offered, provides e-schools with the “potential” for funding, but the actual funding paid must be calculated using actual student participation.

The decision in this case signals a more aggressive push and added oversight when monitoring student attendance in e-school settings. This ruling will impact other Ohio e-schools and change the way community schools report their attendance to receive funding from the state.

If you have any questions regarding this decision and the impact it has on Ohio public school funding, or any other issue pertaining to the public or private school or college/university environments, please contact any member of our Education Law Liability Practice Group.

This has been prepared for informational purposes only. It does not contain legal advice or legal opinion and should not be relied upon for individual situations. Nothing herein creates an attorney-client relationship between the Reader and Reminger. The information in this document is subject to change and the Reader should not rely on the statements in this document without first consulting legal counsel.

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